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Wednesday, 3 June 1970


Mr McIVOR (Gellibrand) - The House is debating the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Bill 1970. After perusing the Bill and the second reading speech by the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) I think I should point out that we must beware of the danger of being too thankful for small mercies. The Minister referred in the opening remarks of his second reading speech to the election policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) and the remarks he had made on this subject. The Minister then said: 1 did not hear one criticism of this proposal in the whole of the election campaign. I would take it that it has the support of the whole House.

I do not want to be critical of the Minister's remarks. It would be wrong for anybody to criticise the humanity of this measure. But I think that much criticism - not unjust criticism but perhaps helpful criticism - can be levelled at the inadequacies of the Bill. After referring to the ยง1.50 per day payment which the Commonwealth makes in respect of accommodation away from home in the case of certain handicapped children, the Minister went on to say:

But, taking it by and large, it is true to say that in this area the States bear the major share of the responsibility and have enlisted the aid of various voluntary bodies to help them discharge it

With all due deference to the Minister I suggest that one word should be added to that statement. I think it would then depict the true situation. I suggest it should read: Various voluntary bodies try to help them discharge it.' It amazes me that the Government should suggest that more responsibility be placed on the shoulders of voluntary organisations and even go so far as to suggest that the States will be freed from providing capital subventions or subsidies to voluntary bodies.

In spite of the various efforts made by voluntary and local government bodies, the problem of care for handicapped children is increasing daily. This measure sounds very good, Mr Speaker, and in fact it is good but nevertheless the procedure for which it provides creates discrimination. It is not pointed discrimination or discrimination that one likes to see. This sort of legislation creates unjustifiable discrimination. I will amplify this statement a little further. One can see examples of it in the case of kindergartens, creches, primary schools and other institutions in the more wealthy suburbs. They have much better amenities than similar institutions in my own electorate, for instance 85% of which is, I suppose, is a working-class area. What I refer to as discrimination is not something that people like to see or something which the Government wants to bring about in this measure. But by the same token this Bill does bring about that sort of discrimination and creates a feeling of unjustness in the minds of people who cannot put their hands in their pockets to the same extent as other people.

I remarked earlier about the inadequacies of the Bill but will refer to them later. In the latter half of his speech the Minister expressed his sentiments about the families of handicapped children. I know that his sentiments are very real but people with handicapped children or handicapped relatives say that eloquent words are of little help to (heir families or to the handicapped children and do nothing to assist them at the greatest point of need. The greatest point of need is during the first years of the life of the handicapped child. When speaking of handicapped children I mean children with physical as well as mental handicaps, lt is not possible to divorce the needs of the handicapped child from the needs of the family. The needs of the family are the most urgent in the early years of the child's life. This Bill does nothing to assist the family or the child during this period. Home nursing, home help, counselling and social worker assistance during these years could reduce hospital waiting lists. Many parents, given assistance at this stage of the child's life, could later cope with many of the problems which drive them to seek hospital placement as the only means of preventing a complete family breakdown. Voluntary organisations, with all the warmth, sympathy, understanding and drive in the world cannot adequately provide this sort of assistance. Assistance of this kind in those circumstances must ultimately be provided through Government guaranteed social service, medical and paramedical agencies.

Voluntary organisations have undertaken almost too willingly the care and education of, in particular, mentally handicapped children from the pre-school years through to the sheltered workshop. As the Minister suggested, this legislation will encourage them in this task. However, no Government expects voluntary organisations to undertake the education of non-handicapped children. A family with a handicapped child is a handicapped family. There is no getting away from that fact. The Minister himself said this. There is no justice in a policy that asks not less of this family but more because of a misfortune to which it has in no way contributed. Looking at it in its best light, this Bil) imposes an additional burden on the parents of handicapped children who, in the main, make up the voluntary organisations which will seek subsidies for the new day centres and residential referred to in it.

One of the most desperate and tragic situations that confront parents of severely handicapped children at this time is the inadequacy of hospital type accommodation for their children. I refer to children who are too severely handicapped to be able to be satisfactorily placed in most hostels run by voluntary organisations. Some church hospitals can care for these children but the numbers are pitifully small when compared with the need. I will give honourable members some indication of the need by referring to the Kew Cottages in Victoria. As at 1st May 1969 the waiting list was 1,433, of which 198 were described as most urgent and 248 described as urgent. Mrs Marie Coleman, Director of the Victorian Council of Social Service, on 16th October last year said:

The situation is tragic. A conservative estimate of the number of residential beds needed for (he severely retarded is 1.3 for each thousand of the population. Victorian residential beds amount to about half that estimate.

She went on to say that plans for the provision of additional accommodation at residential centres over the next 5 years - she was referring to Victoria - amount to approximately 636 beds. The waiting list is growing at the rate of approximately 100 each year, lt may not be generally realised that these figures are more than statistics. They represent a desperate situation for many families. Normal children are held back and the health of the parents is undermined by the tremendous strain of caring for the retarded member. This strain cannot be alleviated unless some provision is made. Parents associations have made many approaches to the State Government and have been told always that there is not enough money. This is a matter that has moved beyond State finances and has become one of national concern. 1 refer again to the position of parents. Little has been said in this debate so far about the position of parents. I call these people waiting list parents. These waiting list parents especially are the ones for whom some form of social service assistance by way of help in their homes is essential. The burdens carried by these families include high medical costs, high transport costs, special safety measures in the home, excessive laundry costs, costs of excessive clothing replacements and other excessive costs which may be incurred by the condition of a particular child. Indeed, the need for residential accommodation for these people is very great, lt could be lessened if a range of community services were available to help these families to keep a child at home. Such community services could include visiting social workers, physiotherapists, teacher and speech therapist services, financial assistance to the family whose child's condition requires this, a home help service - especially with trained personnel - and a visiting nursing service for the very young and for the bedridden or almost totally dependent child. These are an absolute necessity. 1 could go further with this list. Grants could be made to the States to help them run a correspondence course for the mothers of handicapped children not serviced by any facility. This would enable mothers to start training their children along sound lines. There should also be compulsory medical examinations under the national health service for all 4-year-olds to enable earlier assessment of children with special needs due to a disability and hostel accommodation for the aged, orphans, and others unable to live at home for any reason, such as illness, age of parent, distance from a facility, condition of handicapped person in relation to other members of the family, size of family, etc. I believe also that provision should be made for holiday or emergency placement. 1 refer to those handicapped children at present being educated by State education departments. These children have no certainty and no security for the future. They need post-school training as offered to the rest of the school population, but training geared to the needs and abilities of these mildly retarded persons. Perhaps this could be done under the auspices of the Department of Education and Science, that is, through institutions of advanced education. Many of these people are capable of a far wider range of occupation than the repetitive assembly work usually thought of as their limit. However, post-school training, guaranteed employment and on-the-job counselling are essential. These people are not properly placed in terminal sheltered workshops and require a transitionally sheltered employment situation and frequently hostel accommodation. I know that amendments would be required to the legislation dealing with assistance to sheltered employment to achieve this end.

I wish to refer to the position in other countries. I know that comparisons are odious but I shall mention first the United

States of America. In Chicago, 1,578 young adult retardates, whose annual earnings totalled $70,000, were given intensive vocational training over a year or more. The cost of this training was $2,250,000. However, in their first full year of work after training, their total earnings were $2.5m. So, in effect, the cost of their training was met by their earnings in their first full year of work. The Dutch will spend up to 6 years on post-school training of retarded persons because it pays them to do so. Denmark pays a special benefit to all parents of mentally retarded persons. So too does Sweden.

I suggest that Commonwealth bursaries should be made available for student social workers to encourage them to work with families which have handicapped, particularly mentally handicapped, children. Bursaries should be made available also to encourage the training of nurses to work with severely handicapped children. Another form of aid would be the introduction of taxation rebates as a form of social assistance where additional expense is incurred in caring for a handicapped member of a family. The overall need is that the mentally handicapped person should be regarded as an individual personality having the same rights as other Australians and, through his lifetime disability, having greater need of specialised assistance than more gifted citizens. In making provision for this assistance, we must guard against not seeing him within the context of a family unit.

I refer now to the report of the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs. Regarding this subject of the physically and mentally handicapped, the Committee said in its report: 149. The Committee considers that there is insufficient information available on the problems involved in the care and treatment of the physically and mentally handicapped. Voluntary organisations do provide considerable assistance to these groups. There is a pressing need for a thorough assessment of the most practical forms of assistance necessary for their solution. 150. The Committee recommends: That Commonwealth and State Governments should conduct a thorough joint inquiry into the problems associated with the special care and treatment of the physically and mentally handicapped, of all ages, for the purpose of establishing the most satisfactory practical forms of assistance.

I have suggested already some of these practical forms of assistance. I could suggest others including some assistance in meeting the cost of essential drugs which are not obtainable onthe free list. This presents financial hardships to the families or the parents of handicapped children. Help is required in catering for the services that these children need or to assist mentally retarded children attending special schools. A need exists for increased mental retardation content in training courses for medical practitioners, general nurses and, in particular, nurses taking positions in mothercraft and child care clinics. These are very essential requirements. 1 do not intend to speak at any great length on this matter. The honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) quoted at length from a brochure that he had which referred to matters within his own electorate and in particular to what I think he called the Westhaven Home. The report that the honourable member read was a very glowing one. I want to read a report that presents the other side of the picture. It is one that is very real because it covers not only the metropolitan area of Victoria but also the country districts of that State. It is headed: 'A crisis for retarded in schools', and it reads:

Some slow learners - children with intellectual handicaps, or social and emotional problems - have to wait up to three years to get places in Victorian Government special education schools.

The delay can mean it is too late to help the children by the time they are admitted.

And some who do make it take lessons in corridors and converted shelter sheds.

These conclusions are among the findings of a survey of the State's special education facilities made by the Victorian Teachers' Union field officer, Mr Barrie Rimmer.

The report says that the shortage of special schools in outer Melbourne suburbs means that many handicapped children travel up to 60 miles a day.

It cites a well documented list of other special educational problems.

A shortage of psychology and guidance branch staff means that some children with specific problems - especially in country areas - are overlooked

The whole of Gippsland, including the heavilypopulated Latrobe Valley, receives only 3 visits a year,' it says.' 'Officers find themselves interviewing parents and pupils in storerooms, staff rooms, sick bays and even shelter sheds. This situation is almost unbelievable when it is remembered that officers frequently wish to make tests of a sensitive nature.'

Schools for physically handicapped children arc grossly overcrowded.

The report says playing areas at Yooralla Carlton, Marathon and Yooralla Balwyn schools are totally inadequate.

These areas are small and either concrete or asphalt, making games and important physical activities impossible.'

The Fitzroy Special School and the Marathon School for physically handicapped children are singled out for scathing appraisal.

Mr Rimmersays the Fitzroy School is a disgrace'.

The old 2-storey buildingis dubbed a fire trap.

The rooms generally arc dilapidated with paint peeling from the walls and stains where the roof leaks. On the ground floor there is continual interruption from the first-floor noise.'

Six is a crowd in the art-craft room - an old 10 ft by 10 ft shed.

A stairway in the school is rotten.

The report says that the Marathon School has 9 classrooms for 1 1 classes. Mr Rimmer estimates its accommodation - used for 103 students - is adequate for no more than 75-80.

Two portable classrooms owned by the Country Roads Board have poor ventilation. The report says the rooms feature 'extreme heat in summer and extreme cold in winter'.

There is no room for wheelchairs in the classrooms.

Andthere is no water piped to the rooms - so art work is almost impossible.

Mr Rimmercalls for: A doubling of the intake to special teacher training courses. More senior teaching jobs in special schools so experienced staff do not have to leave for promotion.

The immediate addition of four new special schools he suggests Watsonia, Burwood, Traralgon and Dandenong as sites.

That is the report on the other side of the scale and it does not suggest that all is as well in Victoria as it is in New South Wales.

The Minister went on to say:

It is vital that help be given to these handicapped people early in life, because a child - even an infant - is easier to train than an adult.

The Minister admits this but unfortunately this Bill will do nothing to overcome the problems faced by spastics, who were referred to by the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson), dyslectics, autistics, the profoundly deaf, the blind and the mentally retarded. In all these cases the training must be given to the child at a very early age. This Bill will do little to help in this regard. The Minister in his speech said: . . both the States and voluntary bodies have been making valiant efforts in this field of assistance to handicapped children. This measure is designed to augment these efforts without interference in the proper fields of their administration.

In spite of these valiant efforts the position is getting worse every day. Private funds and local government funds are running dry. if honourable members care to look thr ough the Press in Victoria or examine localgover nment administration in that Statethey will findthat rates will take a terrific leap. How can the councils and pe opl e with inadequate means find this sort of money when it is just not there? It is ridicuiousto think that councils will be able to face up to these problems.

The' Minister went on to say in his second reading speech:

It is clear enough that there is still much to be done. There are, we estimate some 50.000 handicapped children under16 years of age in Australia, including both those who have some physical handicap and those who are mentally reta rded. Probably under half of these are adequatelycalered for by special facilities.

The Minister is wrong. I would say probably more than half of those children are inadequately catered for. That is the position in Victoria and there is no doubt about if. Nobody can deny that that is the position. I now come to a part of the Ministers speech which shocked me a little, despite his sincerity. He said:

This Hill will help the States, because it will free them from the need to provide capital subventions to voluntary bodies, or at least will greatly reduce the need for them to do so. Insolariesas thisoccurs.It will allow them--

That is. the States - to devote greater funds towards assisting handicapped children in other ways.

To me this is a shocking suggestion. In other words it means that voluntary organisations and parents bodies will have to provide greater help. The States will be relieved of their burdens and the parents and voluntary bodies will have to bear the costs. I say without fear of contradiction that any further responsibility placed on parents associations, other voluntary bodies and local government bodies and on the shoulders of the families of these unfortunate handicapped people is only a vicious form of indirect taxation on a section of the public which is now bearing much more than its share of Commonwealth responsibility. Furthermore, if it is one of the wishful hopes of this Government to induce local government to undertake responsibilities of this nature, 1 want to say that most municipalities are now practically bankrupt and they have been telling this Government for many years that they can no longer carry out the responsibilities which they now have to face up to. As . 1 said before, rates are rising beyond - the capacity of many people to pay, and local government participation in a scheme of this kind will only increase the tremendous problems of local government and place extra taxation in the form of rates on the shoulders of these, people. It is, of course, another form of indirect taxation.

Without doubt this matter is oneof national importance. The ramifications in relation to the wide range of specialised teaching and treatment that must be given to the handicapped are beyond the resources of voluntary organisations, both economically and physically. The same can be said of local government. With the knowledge also that all Slates are screaming for more revenue from the Commonwealth Government to meet their commitments, local councils, voluntary organisations, parents organisations and the parents and families of these unfortunate people whose welfare we are. today discussing can expect little help from State governments. Indeed the provisions of this Bill could aggravate the situation. For those reasons, and for many others, although I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), I feel that such are the implications of this problem that it can be dealt with only at the national level.







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